Richards Bay.

AFRICA: A sod-turning on January 12 ceremonially launched work to develop a 146 km rail connection between Lothair in South Africa and Sidvokodvo Junction in Swaziland.

The Swazilink project includes upgrading of the existing lines at each end. This will provide landlocked Swaziland with a direct western rail connection with South Africa, and create a new though route to enable general freight to be diverted away from South African operator Transnet's line to the Port of Richards Bay, freeing capacity on the existing route for increased coal exports.

The first train is expected to run on the new route via Swaziland in three years, however land still needs to be acquired and environmental approvals obtained. The total cost of the project is put at between R15bn and R17bn, of which up to R12bn will be met by South Africa.

'This project is vitally important for a number of reasons', said Transnet Group Chief Executive Brian Molefe at the launch ceremony. 'When complete, this new line will create additional capacity of 15 million tonnes, which will predominantly be general freight volumes from the existing coal export line. Given the configuration of coal trains - 200 wagons - we expect that significant capacity will be made available for export coal.'

Transnet is also developing plans for a rail link to South Africa's Waterberg coalfield for completion by 2016.